Distortion of Philip Zimbardo’s Prison Study to say that torture is inevitable

Amrit Singh, the senior legal officer at the National Security and Counterterrorism program at the Open Society Justice Initiative, has just authored a disturbing report entitled, “Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detention and Extraordinary Rendition.” The report identifies 54 countries in the international community that aided the CIA with its torture operations. The implication here is stark and will be used by those to justify the use of torture and excuse those who practice it. Those who support the use of torture will
say that it is an international phenomenon, unavoidable and inevitable, due to the inclination of  human beings to commit such abuses. They will point to Philip Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment and other obedience studies to justify such behavior on the grounds that it is some how in the human nature to torture.

However, it is a distortion of Philip Zimbardo’s prison study to say that torture is an inevitable part of human behavior. Those of us who have spent our lives studying group behavior know that torture and abuse depend on the kind of leadership a group is provided and the group norms that emerge as a consequence of that leadership. In the case of the United States government, it is the political leadership at the highest level that sets the norms for subordinates in the military, the FBI and the CIA to follow.

United States citizens must hold their leaders accountable when they fail to comply with United States law and International treaties which condemn and forbid the planning and practice of torture by U.S. operatives or anyone acting on our behest.

Bill Roller

Note: Amrit Singh is co-author with Jameel Jaffer of the book Administration of Torture: A Documentary Record from Washington to Abu Ghraib and Beyond. 

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